October 26th, 2012
Father James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints, talks about the connection between Halloween (October 31) and All Saints Day (November 1). Fr. Martin answers FAQs such as:
How saints get made?
In addition he discusses the lives of three of his favorite saints, Francis of Assisi, Therese of Liseaux and Isaac Jogues.
October 23rd, 2012
I have always had a hard time with change. My family moved a lot throughout my childhood, and since then, change has me frightened more than excited. While I love to watch the changing seasons, especially from summer to fall, I am always a little wary of the transition. Whether I’ve had a full-time job, or been a student, as I am now, I’m always excited and nervous. Excited to apple pick, leaf peep, and to curl up with a blanket, a book, and tea. I’m especially nervous because I’m graduating this coming spring and thus am anticipating the pressure of a job search in addition to the usual stress that schoolwork brings. I know that I will find peace as fall settles upon me. In the meantime, I’m staying attentive to how nature is changing everything around me and reflecting on the intentionality with which many people, including me, say goodbye to one season and welcome the next.
There is a balance to the art of transitioning that I see in the way that we deal with the change of seasons. We appreciate and in some ways ritually say goodbye to summer. We each have our own way — whether it is savoring the last of summer’s fruits or visiting a favorite summer spot one last time. I commemorate the end of summer by eating as much watermelon, zucchini and tomato as I can handle and by taking long walks right before sunset. I then let go and welcome the newness of the next season. My favorite way to welcome fall is by apple picking. These rituals help me acknowledge and accept the changes that occur slowly but that without attentiveness might feel abrupt.
October 17th, 2012
It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and I had spent the last seven hours with three older ladies: Marilyn, Kathy and Irene, who descended from the Irish, Slovak and Polish people respectively. I was learning to make pierogi, which, for the uninitiated, is a Slavic sort of ravioli. At the soup kitchen where I have worked for almost a year, my supervisor Monsignor Joseph Kelly had sent me to his older sister Marilyn that I might learn to cook from her Polish friend, Irene. “Be sure,” he added, “to ask Irene about the trip she took to Ireland.”
“They were all Irish like Marilyn,” Irene said, laughing, “I was the only Polish girl on that whole trip, and I was the only one to bend over backwards and kiss the Blarney Stone. That was when my back was still good.” Now her back is bent with scoliosis, and although she has a fancy remote-controlled gadget implanted above her hip, she spent most of the time directing the operations of the kitchen from her seat, rising only once when I had fabulously ruined the first batch of dough and the crisis necessitated experienced fingers to patch it up with an appropriate amount of sour cream.
While my own grandmother was Polish (her maiden name was Szmanda, which, Irene told me, is pronounced Schmanda), I had never heard of pierogi until I came to Scranton, a city in northeastern Pennsylvania that sits atop a honeycomb of anthracite mines. The city has magnificent Catholic churches every few blocks, one for each brand of European immigrant who, like Irene’s father, came to work in the coal industry a mile and more beneath our feet. The flavors of those immigrants still perfume the valley.
October 16th, 2012
Fall has long been my favorite season, but this year I enter it with a different set of experiences and thoughts that have changed my perspective. I come to this season with the recent loss of my mother weighing on my heart.
There’s new meaning in the leaves falling and the trees mourning their coverings. Do they know they will be full of life and leaves once again? Do they know the God who created them has plans for their fullness of life and will return them to the splendor of green they are for the spring and summer?
I find myself asking these same questions. Will I feel full of life again after this season of mourning? Will God bring me through the darkness and help me transition into a spring way of life? I look to others for examples of living through such loss. I know classmates and friends who have lost parents and see how they continue to live their lives. I also look to family and friends who have offered their support in a difficult time. Friends were there to let me cry — even on the phone. And someone who also lost her own mother suddenly offered understanding and comfort from a place of truly knowing what I was going through. Those family and friends bring me a sense of peace and hope.
I know as a Catholic that all will be well amid the mourning. I know that God has a plan for full life for all of us when we are united in heaven, and that we will all see each other again. But in this season of mourning and missing someone so vital and important in my life and in the lives of others, I can’t help but wonder how I’ll get through it.
Longing for spring green
October 11th, 2012
Question: My boyfriend is a “lapsed” Catholic and not that connected to organized religion. I have a more active and practicing faith. Should I be worried about our religious compatibility?
October 10th, 2012
I’ve been thinking a lot about anger lately — righteous anger; spilling-over-the-top you are such total crud anger; you don’t deserve to be called a member of the human race anger; and what do you have in your ears, elephant turds, anger.
The level of rage in our national discourse seems to have hit a new low, or high, depending on how you use your statistics. Name-calling seems to be the preferred method of campaigning and “discussion” — although we can’t really use that term, can we, because to “discuss” means to listen to, and I simply don’t see a lot of listening going on.
The thing that I find most dismaying about this pathetic level of discourse is that it is toxic to my mental health. I read The New York Times online every morning, preferably before my morning prayers, because after reading the news I need some serious trash-taking-out by the grace of God. I’ll read about the lies Romney is telling about Obama’s tweaking of welfare grants to the states. My blood pressure spikes. I drum my fingers on my keyboard, not a good idea, and mutter, “How can he say that? Doesn’t he have a conscience?”
In the college office where my husband works, there is a wonderful, funny African-American woman who will, at times in a conversation that is taking an unbelievable turn, say, “Stop your lyin’!” I’d like to say that to the offensively aggressive and self-righteous politicians, on both sides of the debate. Perhaps hiring a small airplane with a plastic banner streaming out behind would serve to alert the populace that we are tired of self-serving lies and tired of anger, which infects us all.
I read The New York Times online every morning, preferably before my morning prayers, because after reading the news I need some serious trash-taking-out by the grace of God.
And, of course, we don’t just find this in political discourse; check into any Catholic blog and you will find words being hurled about like stones, accusing people of not being “true …
October 9th, 2012
CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters May 24, 2012When I first arrived in Egypt as a working journalist it was June 2011 and everyone I encountered was still ecstatic about the revolution. Tahrir Square was still a symbol of the uprising and many Egyptians still held their military de facto rulers in high regard. Even on my way to Tahrir, my cab driver asked me proudly, “So, what do you think of our revolution? Isn’t it amazing?” His smile lit up his eyes. I nodded, saying it was impressive indeed.
This was in stark contrast to my next visit, when I came back for the one-year anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2012. The growing unemployment and subsequent poverty had finally taken their toll on the people who now cared little about non-tangibles like democracy and freedom and more about making ends meet to buy food. Now on my way to the square, my cab driver asked me, “What good has this revolution brought me? I can’t feed my family!” Many drivers wouldn’t even take me to Tahrir, for fear of I’m-not-even-sure-what.
I interviewed many people who were torn about what to believe of the trajectory this revolution was taking. For every revolutionary who was willing to continue his or her fight with the ruling powers, there was a man or a woman who just wanted a return to normalcy. Some people were tired of protests blocking traffic and disrupting business, and other basic logistical issues you don’t think of when you’re watching a protest on TV from the comfort of your home.
The security vacuum after the revolution certainly helped fuel the idea that the revolution was counterproductive among regular Egyptians, who wanted nothing more than the feeling of safety, which eluded them after Mubarak’s ouster. Indeed, the months after the anniversary of the revolution brought many bizarre armed robberies of banks — something virtually unheard of in Egypt — emails circulating about carjackings on deserted roads, and stories of higher crime in general. Then, the “…
October 5th, 2012
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the rosary.
It stems from long road trips with my very Catholic family, where the CD I had been playing through the car speakers was suddenly turned off, my parents’ rosaries pulled out from the glove compartment and for the next 15-20 minutes I was forced to endure an incessant babble of words repeated over and over. I understood the importance of prayer, I just didn’t see why we had to make an already long and tedious drive all the more so by becoming quiet and serious, with the same two or three prayers recited in a nearly mindless chant. I was at a loss so I sat quietly while my parents prayed, waiting until I could turn the music back on.
Fast-forward about ten years and I’m on my own in the city. Taking the train to job interviews, I found myself too nervous to listen to music or pick up a book, so I sat staring out the window, wondering what would become of me if I didn’t soon find gainful employment. My mind jumped through a thousand different worst-case scenarios all which did very little to calm me down. Then, from out of the recesses of both heart and psyche, some familiar words came creeping to my lips. Before I knew what I was doing a hushed medley of Our Fathers and Hail Marys began pouring from me in my own nearly mindless chant. But it wasn’t mindless — amidst the repetition of both prayers was a larger overarching one — asking for help, guidance and most of all peace.
Just reciting the prayers offered a kind of peace and I soon added them to my daily routine: get dressed, jump on the train, say the prayers and head to the interview. I began adding what I could remember of the Apostles’ Creed to the beginning and a few Glory Be’s here and there. I had begun creating my own cobbled together version of the rosary my parents had inflicted …
October 3rd, 2012
Fr. Steven Bell, CSP, makes his video debut (and eats a lot of sausage and peppers) while celebrating the San Gennaro Festival in New York’s Little Italy. The festival, which celebrates the patron saint of the people of Naples, is well known as one of the largest religious street festivals in the United States.
San Gennaro, a.k.a. St. Januarius, was an Italian bishop martyred in 305 AD. His remains were brought back to Naples, where he was celebrated for his faithfulness. When the Napoli people immigrated to New York in 1926, they continued the celebration, which has expanded from a simple afternoon event into what is now an 11-day-long festival of food, fellowship and fun (and once again, a lot of food.)
Join Fr. Steve as he makes his way through the festivities, samples quite a few treats, talks to the locals and discovers the deeper meaning of the feast.
October 2nd, 2012
In the past two weeks of hitting the radio and TV waves almost on a daily basis promoting a new book, I have been transformed. In the physical sense, yes — I’ve gained a good seven pounds and am unsuccessfully masking it with baggier shirts and new husky style dress pants. But this transformation transcends trans fats — in a more figurative sense, I have become something anew — according to a colleague at work, I think I may now be a religious pundit.
Some quick research on this word brings to light a definition that explains a pundit to be, “a learned person in media, or someone who at least appears to be learned.” It is the second part of this definition that I take solace in and will embrace.
A new book and a fantastic publicist have now given me entrée to a world craving media punditry; my responsibility and duty is in the thoughtful dissemination of learned answers on religion, particularly the Catholic faith, and life — and hopefully sell a few books in the process, too. A great joy of this new distinction is sharing what I consider the “bread and butter” of the Catholic Church — love, hope, faith, graces, the sacraments, the Eucharist, and everything that happens in between.
However, what are my “talking head” qualifications? Well, I have 20 consecutive years of Catholic schooling. It probably …
October 1st, 2012
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I had a righteous inclination that God wanted me to be the person to heal others through medicine. This vision persisted until my sophomore year of college, at which point I had to admit to myself I really was not destined to be a pediatrician after a year of struggling through chemistry courses.
During that first year of college, I kept thinking to myself that it didn’t make sense. I was putting so much effort into chemistry — studying for all my quizzes and tests, doing countless practice exercises, attending office hours when I didn’t understand a concept, never missing a lab. My grades weren’t a reflection of the hard work. I loved biology in high school and had even taken AP Biology. I was smart. Why wasn’t this jelling for me?
I was oblivious to it then, but God had been slowly maneuvering me away from my own agenda freshman year and placing me on the path He intended for me the entire time: writing. I had written since I was a young child and often sought refuge penning fictional stories with characters I created at whim in my mind. I often say that I first became an author in third grade, the year I entered a story about a princess and her struggle to make friends outside of the castle into my elementary school’s media festival. My mother helped me make the book in the shape of the princess’ silhouette and meticulously cut pink, transparent, shimmery fabric for the cover. The fabric was fragile and although now it only plays with the dust bunnies underneath my bed, the treasure of it still remains.
“Finally doing something right”
I was sure of what God wanted to do with my life and tried, in vain, to make things happen and despaired when they didn’t pan out. You know the drill… but the exact things that didn’t seem to correlate or bear any significance to my calling — such
September 26th, 2012
Question: Is it OK to date more than one person at a time?
Answer: The straightforward answer is you are free to date more than one person until you commit to being exclusive with one person. The whole point of dating is to figure out what you eventually want in a spouse. Dating allows you to discover what you can’t live with, or without, and to learn more about your own values. Dating around can be a fun stage of being single!
If you are starting to get the sense that one or more of your dates would be hurt to find out you are dating other people, then that may be a sign that dating more than one person may no longer be appropriate. Let’s start by defining what you mean by “dating.” If dating means a couple of casual dates, along with light conversation and very limited to no physical intimacy, then you are really just getting to know someone and dating around is perfectly ok.
Now, if dating means consistent weekly contact for two months or more, coupled with long conversations about how much you are attracted to each other and some form of “making out,” then dating more than one person may start to feel like a betrayal. Even if you are not explicitly stating it, the amount of time and intimacy you share implies your interest is serious. If there is any confusion about exclusivity, then I would advise having that conversation. When another person’s emotions are involved, then we are called to take responsibility for those emotions. As Christians and as Catholics, this is one way we care for others. If you know that your date would be hurt or surprised that you are still dating other people, then your best bet is to be up front. No guilt or judgment; just be honest, so your date has the full picture before the connection between the two of you continues to deepen.
Even if you are not explicitly stating it, the amount of time
September 25th, 2012
Last week, an interview on “The Daily Show with John Stewart” with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, began with this exchange:
Jon Stewart: “How’s the world.”
Kofi Annan: “Messy.”
Indeed, the world is in a chaotic and cruel place. In the Syrian civil war alone up to 11,000 people have been killed. Yet the day-to-day events of the conflict seem to be just a blip in the news. Recent developments say that the government has threatened chemical weapons against Syrian rebels who seized a border crossing at Turkey. Innocents are daily wounded and killed with stray bullets. Last month more than 200 Syrians were massacred. What drives a government to such mercilessness?
In just one 24-hour news cycle we learn about some kind of violence around the world. And not just that. Every day nearly 16,000 children die from hunger. Suffering seems to abound and we see it so often on the news or in movies that we’ve become desensitized. It takes something like 9/11, a large-scale violent event on our own soil, for us to be jarred enough to look up and see that terrible violence and suffering exists.
Yet such horror happens on different scales every day around the world.
It’s important to recognize that human beings are the cause of this kind of suffering, not God. Violence against fellow human beings may be one of the biggest mysteries, but it leaves us with many questions. For starters: Why is peace so difficult for humankind?
The “easy” religious answer would be to say that it’s because we’re fallen. We have a broken and sinful nature. Unfortunately, that answer doesn’t satisfy. Not with events like 9/11 or the Holocaust. It’s not an acceptable answer for someone who’s starving because their government withholds food distribution from them. There are no easy answers, just more questions.
For those removed from major daily civil violence the questions that arise are: Where is God in all this? and How do we respond?
September 24th, 2012
“God, why can’t I have a regular sister?”
That’s a question I asked God a lot in my childhood prayers. The question encompassed all the bitterness, anger and resentment I harbored from being a sister to someone with autism. I knew I loved my sister, but why did she have to be different? When I was 7 or 8, I realized that I would not have the “typical” older sister, as seen on TV. The older sister that would take my side with mom and dad. The one that would give me advice on boys. The one who would teach me how to apply makeup or commiserate with me about the let downs of life.
The worst part — spending time with my sister wasn’t like “hanging out” with someone. My sister couldn’t talk with me about my struggles in life. She didn’t even want to be close to me. She would be off in her own world and space. I was left alone. Around 14 or 15, I started praying a little more fervently to God. I remember praying for the loneliness to go away. I prayed for someone who could understand me. I prayed for someone who I could talk to, who would be nearby, who I could run to immediately. …
September 19th, 2012
For some time now I have been faithfully following the little blurbs on the “Saint of the Day” in my various religious readings and Internet sites. These seem to include very young and virtuous girls in Italy who fend off rapists and then forgive them in the end; women who married young, had a gazillion children, forgave their husbands their infidelities and then founded orders of nuns who cared for the poor and the sick; holy men who became doorkeepers at monasteries and blew people away with their advice and wisdom.
This is not to knock these saints! By no means. It’s just to say — I cannot see myself in them. I wasn’t a virgin for very long; I am not humble and generous; I don’t dispense wisdom to visitors; and I am not good, except for short periods of time, sort of like a solar flare. Do others have this same response: that these holy people are not at all like me?
Fr. Barron, the creator of the wonderful “Catholicism” series talks about a conversation Thomas Merton had with his friend, Robert Lax, who asked Thomas what he wanted to be. After a sort of garbled answer, Robert replied, “You should want to be a saint.” And Fr. Barron turns to us watching the DVD and says that we should want that too.
I just think life is far fiercer, far more dangerous, and far more sensual than the traditional idea of “sainthood” seems to be. I could be way wrong on this. But I am not aiming for sainthood.
Wow. That is so not on my bucket list. It probably should be. If I had any pretensions or ambitions to holiness (whatever the hell that is!), I should want to be a saint. But I don’t. I want to make a perfect cheese omelette with smoked peppers and artichokes inside, and watch the smiles of appreciation on my loved ones’ faces as they bite into the runny center. I want to pour out perfectly crisp Chardonnay into tall glasses, handing them to my …
September 18th, 2012
In my late 20s, I began manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had been attacked twice at knifepoint as a child and was able to keep the memories pretty well tucked into my unconscious, but at a certain point my unconscious won. As I began sifting through the memories and the pain, I also began experiencing tremendous anger toward God. How could he ever let something like that happen to me?
‘God, where were you?’
Many people have confronted this same dilemma. We call it the problem of evil. How can an all-loving, completely good God allow evil to happen to his children? The response that I had heard repeatedly was, unfortunately, only a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatment of the problem of evil: God permits evil in order to bring good out of it. I had always accepted this answer, until I had to confront the reality of evil head-on in my own life. And so, I admitted to my spiritual director that I could not agree with that explanation because of my own experience.
His response: If you can’t accept that, what can you accept?
That wasn’t what I expected to hear, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear. I started a journey that included many hours of prayer, tears and questioning to figure out a response that satisfied me. I asked God (many times), “Where were you when I was being attacked?” The answer came in a Scripture passage: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) My problem was that I was looking for God in the actual event; and God could not possibly be there. Now I knew where God wasn’t, so I stopped looking there.
I began identifying more and more with Jesus since I experienced some of what he went through — being attacked, left completely alone, and helpless before the aggression of others. I rewrote one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant found in the book of Isaiah with the
September 17th, 2012
I’ve been thoroughly frustrated lately with our culture’s view of marriage and how the whole thing is supposed to work — namely, the lead up to day one. Despite society’s desire to step away from a “traditional” definition of marriage we tend to cling to traditions that reinforce stereotypical gender roles, or most concerningly, take away the significance of marriage. Some of these traditions are rooted in religion and patriarchal histories yet have imbued the secular world as “musts” in any wedding story.
Guy meets girl…
I always like to tell the story of when I worked at Walt Disney World where I witnessed three proposals. Yes, they were beautiful moments of love expressed. But all three of them had the same format: the guy on his knee slipping a ring on the girl’s finger. That’s what we’re used to because that’s what we’ve been told is supposed to happen.
There’s a good scene in the movie “Runaway Bride.” Julia Roberts’ character Maggie is showing Richard Gere’s character Ike the rings she’s received from her various former fiancés. After she shares a couple stories of their “romantic” proposals in ballparks and butterfly farms, Ike says, “You know, if you gotta dress it up …
September 13th, 2012
CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters
Mose Gingerich is a thirtysomething with a wife and kids. He lives in a tidy brick house in Columbia, Missouri. He sells Toyotas. On the surface, his life seems utterly unremarkable. But it’s not. Mose Gingerich spent the first half of his life as a member of an Old Order Amish community.
National Geographic Channel recently ran a series examining the lives of young adult Amish who have left their communities and their faith (which, one could easily argue, are one and the same). The series, “Amish: Out of Order,” details the lives of these individuals as they struggle to come to grips with the strange, fast-paced “English” world and the heartbreaking, often irreversible separation from their families that leaving their Amish past entails. At the center of these stories is Mose Gingerich. He left the Amish at age 22 and settled in Columbia, Missouri, a city that has become a beacon for ex-Amish seeking to start a new life outside the restrictive communities of their upbringing. Mose has devoted himself to helping other ex-Amish. He provides support, friendship, advice and, when he can, financial help. He is both mentor and friend. Those who cross his threshold looking for help generally range in age from their mid-teens to late 20s. They have no money, no possessions, no family willing to help, and an education that culminated with the eighth grade. The community takes them in, and strong bonds are formed among those who intimately understand each others’ struggles and longing.
September 12th, 2012
Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as consumers. I know I’d always hated the term. I’m a human being, after all, not just a buyer of things. I disliked the word “lifestyle” for similar reasons; I live a life, not just a “style” that naturally requires buying more things.
Then a magazine story I was editing about Rob Walker, a consumerism critic for The New York Times, called me out. He was explaining why the Times needs such a thing as a consumerism critic.
The shock of self-recognition forced me to admit I am a consumer. I buy things — in fact, over time, lots of things. I choose which things to buy — sometimes for smart reasons and sometimes for silly ones.
My research reminded me that buying wisely starts before the act of purchasing. Choosing to reuse, buy secondhand or go without some things is still the wisest option for society’s triple bottom line.
Still, I need to buy new food, toiletries, cleaning products, clothing and plenty more. A fellow parish member recommended something called the Better World Shopper. Better World was multi-pronged: a rating system that grades companies with the highest regard for human rights, …
September 10th, 2012
Moving is not fun. I’ve been at it for two weeks. I’m tired. I’m cranky. My back hurts, and my hands are torn from ripping tape and hauling moving box after moving box. In lieu of my college-age brother, I have become the go-to heavy-object lifter, and I’m still upset about my favorite basketball shorts ripping on a particularly aggressive nail in the garage. Moving turns me into a short-tempered, irritable human being with a really short fuse, and I resent it because that’s not who I am in real life.
There’s absolutely nothing that makes you prioritize what you need and don’t need quite like moving. When you live in one place for a long time, decluttering and getting rid of things you don’t need requires some work. You have to think about it, think about the last time you wore it, used it, the next time you might wear it, use it, and make a decision. If you’re a pack rat, each throwaway decision can be emotionally wrenching. And if you’re an organizational freak like me, you have to re-organize everything around it once it’s gone. And finding a time when you want to declutter isn’t likely in the first place. Who even has the time, with work or school, family, friends and way more fun things to distract you on a regular basis?
But when you move, moving is suddenly your entire world, and it’s keeping stuff that requires work. Every little item that you deem worthy must then be wrapped carefully, shoved in a cardboard box, hauled across town (or state lines), and then re-opened and organized in a new space. Suddenly things I thought I couldn’t live without I found myself throwing into the dumpster without mercy or second thought, wondering why I couldn’t let go before.
During this last move, I really started to think about the emotions behind moving and possessions. My own thoughts and experiences really made me wonder: Does holding onto stuff you don’t need take an emotional toll? I’ve been